Friday, 26 June 2015

Bush and Thatcher "agreed in April 1989 to bury the truth"

[On this date in 1992 an article by Jeffrey Steinberg headed Al-Kassar arrest revives scandal of Bush role in Lockerbie coverup was published in Executive Intelligence Review. It is an interesting historical piece reflecting some of the theories doing the rounds at that time. A few excerpts follow:]

Just when George [H W] Bush thought that he had forever buried the Lockerbie scandal, authorities in Spain early in June nabbed fugitive narco-terrorist Mansur Al-Kassar. As a result, one of the President's worst fears may have been revived.

Al-Kassar, a Syrian national with ties to the regime of Hafez Assad in Damascus, had been accused in 1989 of masterminding the Dec 21, 1988 bombing of Pan American Airlines Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 people perished. 

At the time of the Lockerbie tragedy, Al-Kassar had been secretly employed by the US government as the so-called "second channel" negotiating the release of American hostages held in Beirut, Lebanon. Al-Kassar had, according to congressional testimony, received an estimated $2.5 million from Oliver North's secret Iran-Contra Swiss bank accounts for his role in providing Soviet-made weapons to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Al-Kassar's ties to the Reagan and Bush administrations apparently continued long after the IranContra scandal was exposed and North, Adm John Poindexter, and others were booted out of the government.

According to a report prepared by former Israeli intelligence officer Juval Aviv, Al-Kassar was still working with a CIA team in Frankfurt, Germany in the autumn of 1988, when he agreed to help Syrian-sponsored terrorist Ahmed Jibril, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, plant the bomb on board Flight 103. According to the Aviv study, Al-Kassar had infiltrated several members of his Bekaa Valley heroin-smuggling ring onto the baggage handling crew at Frankfurt airport, and they had been able to bypass Pan Am security to plant the bomb on the plane, using the same modus operandi by which they were regularly smuggling heroin into the United States. (...)

Time magazine devoted its April 27 cover story to "The Untold Story of Pan Am 103." The article, by senior Time-Life correspondent Roy Rowan, revived the Aviv allegations about AI-Kassar's role in the Lockerbie massacre, and pointed to the Syrian's collusion with the Frankfurt-based CIA team. Rowan went beyond the initial Aviv report and published new details:

• In January 1990, Pan Am attorney James Shaughnessy, Aviv, and a former US Army polygraphist traveled to Frankfurt to administer lie detector tests to two Pan Am I baggage handlers, Kilin Caslan Tuzcu and Roland O'Neill. Both men were on duty the day Flight 103 blew up. According to testimony given by the polygraphist to a Washington, DC federal grand jury, both men flunked the tests. The specific areas in which he said the two men were most clearly lying dealt with the switching of bags and the planting of the bomb aboard Flight 103. 

• After Pan Am arranged to have Tuzcu and O'Neill travel from Frankfurt to London on a pretext of company business, British authorities refused to detain or arrest the men, claiming that they viewed them as "scapegoats." 

This bizarre behavior of the British authorities lent credence to charges first published by syndicated columnist Jack Anderson in 1990 that President Bush and then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had secretly agreed in April 1989 to bury the truth about Syria's role in the Lockerbie tragedy because it would politically blow up in their faces. (...)

According to an Israeli source, following Al-Kassar's arrest, Spanish authorities searched his Marbella home and discovered a safe filled with diaries and business papers. The Israeli source reports that Al-Kassar is now spilling his guts to the Spanish police about his work for the Reagan and Bush administrations, the secret dealings between Washington and Damascus, and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, including his personal role in developing the cover story that Libyan intelligence, acting on its own, had blown up the plane. 

Juval Aviv, the New York City-based private investigator who conducted the initial investigation for Pan Am, is circumspect about where the Lockerbie probe will go from here: "The Time magazine story has fortunately put things back in perspective, and the arrest of Mr Al-Kassar could lead to a real breakthrough in the case. I still stand by my original investigative report. I have do doubt that the Syrians were deeply involved in the Locketbie bombing, as were the Iranians and elements of Libyan intelligence. In my initial investigation, I developed evidence of a kind of 'Terror, Inc' engaged in both narcotics smuggling and terrorism for hire, running out of the Middle East into Europe. I cited the involvement of Libya in the Pan Am plot and I even referenced Mr Al-Kassar's links to Tripoli. 

"I was deeply disturbed last year when the US Department of Justice indicted the two Libyans and left the world with the impression that Syria and Iran were blameless. Now, perhaps, in spite of that action and in spite of the events in federal district court in Brooklyn, the full story will come out."


  1. I find all of this very confusing. The bomb didn't go on at Frankfurt. All that stuff about O'Neil and Tuzcu (actually Kilinc Aslan Tuzcu) was so much candyfloss. So why did Aviv put so much effort into cobbling together an allegation that that was what had happened? Was it a knowing fabrication? If it was, then why would he do that? If it wasn't, then where did the evidence he says he had actually come from?

    What was behind the ignoring and sidelining of the very clear evidence from Heathrow, which showed that the bomb was in the container an hour before the flight from Frankfurt landed? It's so blindingly obvious it beggars belief that anyone charged with analysing the evidence could have failed to spot it. At the same time the concerted effort to find reasons to ignore Bedford's evidence and to assert that the bomb must have been on the second layer (so excluding the suitcase he saw) is striking.

    And yet, examination of memos and provisional theories and so on doesn't reveal a knowing deception, it looks like pure incompetence. How can anyone be that incompetent? Was there some sort of on-high directive that it was "politically unacceptable" to conclude that the bomb came from Heathrow, so they simply didn't examine the evidence in case that's what they found?

    There seem to have been two separate political imperatives here. From Britain, don't implicate Heathrow, and from America, blame Libya. Britain's refusal to blame Heathrow made it easier to blame Libya, simply by preventing the crime being solved and pinned on the right people. But what was all the hoo-hah about Frankfurt about, that misled so many people? I can't help feeling that without the Frankfurt red herring to chew on, somebody might have noticed what the Heathrow evidence indicated, during the 1990s. Instead, with the people who might have spotted it worrying away around Khaled Jaafar, it went entirely unremarked until 1999-2000.

    Even after that, the Heathrow theory just took its place alongside the continuing suspicions about Frankfurt as a possible alternative explanation. I can't help feeling that even then, Frankfurt was still distracting Megrahi's team from a single-minded appraisal of the Heathrow angle.

    I suppose 20:20 hindsight is a universal attribute. Nevertheless, the amount of smoke being blown about Frankfurt, when in fact the fire was at Heathrow, is astonishing.

  2. There's a Dick Francis novel, I think it's Enquiry, which may illuminate this. It's about how a jockey and trainer were framed for losing a race. The "Enquiry" is a steward's inquiry into whether the jockey deliberately "stopped" the favourite under orders from the trainer, to facilitate a betting coup.

    The chairman of the inquiry trots out a string of apparently damning evidence against the accused, some of which is innocent stuff taken out of context, some of which is an "unfortunate" mistake, and some of which has been simply fabricated. The relevant question is, why would the chairman, who seemed to be neutral and uninvolved, mount a railroad job like that? What was the reason for his apparent extreme prejudice against the accused?

    The thriller gets to the bottom of it. [Spoiler alert.] The apparently respectable chairman of the inquiry was into sado-masochism, and had been attending an adult club for such activities. Someone had recognised him , and he was being blackmailed. He was in a dreadful state of anxiety, believing that his respectable world was about to come crashing down round his ears.

    In the middle of it all, he was instructed by the blackmailer to take on the stewards' inquiry, and to find the accused guilty. He didn't think they were guilty, and was in an extreme state of nervous tension about it. Then an anonymous package appeared on his doormat, containing all the false evidence. He used it in the inquiry.

    The psychological point is that the steward was a decent man, who only happened to have a particular quirk he indulged without harming anyone against their will. He wouldn't have found the accused guilty if he'd believed they were innocent, not even by using fabricated evidence if he'd known it was fabricated. However, he was under such pressure that he accepted the fake evidence as genuine without really thinking about its provenance.

    Now I'm not saying that anyone in the Lockerbie inquiry was under that sort of pressure. But if you're a senior investigating officer, and it's your call which leads get followed up and which don't, and somebody is putting political pressure on you not to come to one particular conclusion about how the crime happened, maybe you're quite relieved when you find evidence pointing in a different direction, so you can make a big deal about investigating that.

    Maybe you genuinely believe you're on to something. Maybe you really think you're solving the crime. You don't know the lead you've been told not to follow up would have been fruitful, because you haven't actually looked. You convince yourself you're doing the right thing.